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"TOMORROWLAND"
(2015) (George Clooney, Britt Robertson) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi Adventure: A teen joins forces with a bitter, middle-aged man in hopes of returning to a future utopia to make things right back on Earth before it's too late.
PLOT:
Casey Newton (BRITT ROBERTSON) is a resourceful teenager who isn't pleased that the government is going to tear down a launch pad at Cape Canaveral where her father, Eddie (TIM McGRAW), has been employed as a NASA engineer. When she sneaks out once again to sabotage such work, she ends up arrested and is surprised to find a small pin as part of her belongings returned to her when she's bailed out. The pin isn't that unique, except when she touches it and is then transported into a vision of a future utopia known as Tomorrowland. It turns out a young girl with a British accent, Athena (RAFFEY CASSIDY), gave Casey the pin in hopes of recruiting her for a special mission.

Some human-shaped robots aren't happy about this, however, and after Athena defeats two of them who try to kill the teen, she drops Casey off on the road near the remote home of Frank Walker (GEORGE CLOONEY). Athena met Frank at the 1964 World's Fair when he was just a boy trying to impress David Nix (HUGH LAURIE) with his jetpack invention. Having similarly wanted to recruit young Frank for her mission, Athena got him into Tomorrowland.

But things ultimately went sour and David had Frank banished from the utopia. The latter is now a grizzled and bitter, middle-aged man who wants nothing to do with Casey who just wants to know what's going on. When more robots show up to attack them, Frank escapes with Casey and begins to inform her about his past involvement with Tomorrowland. With her presence giving him a slight glimmer of hope that she might be the change needed to save the world, Frank and Athena set out to sneak back into Tomorrowland.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I don't recall how old I was at the time, but I distinctly remember being a kid and hearing from a friend about his trip to Disneyworld and how amazing it was, including a ghost that appeared in the seat next to you in the Haunted Mansion ride. Naturally, I was insanely jealous, especially since such things didn't otherwise exist in my world.

Unlike most every child nowadays, however, I never got to go there as a kid, and my first trip was when I was in college on spring break in Florida in the 1980s. Of course, reaction to the park as someone over twenty would obviously be different than a young kid likely overwhelmed by the spectacle. Yet, the one thing I most remember is seeing a bunch of leather-clad bikers riding the Dumbo ride (it was bike week in nearby Daytona Beach).

That and the fact that the Tomorrowland part of the park seemed, well, more about the past than the future. Sure, some of it was fun -- Space Mountain was cool in the dark but was already a long-surpassed coaster by that time -- but much of the rest already felt like an incredibly dated, if somewhat quaint attraction, like a time travel jump back to some vintage World's Fair.

Thus, when I heard Disney was making a live action film based on the attraction -- much like they've done with others ranging from Pirates of the Caribbean to the Country Bears -- I wondered whether the pic would be a cool guess at what the future would be like, or if it might come off as somewhat creaky in a been there, seen that before sort of way.

The one thing I was fairly sure of was that with Brad Bird in the director's chair, the pic would have a fighting chance of being good, it not excellent. After all, Bird was the man behind "The Incredibles," "The Iron Giant," "Ratatouille" and "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," all of which were immensely entertaining films.

Here, Bird directs from a script he penned with Damon Lindelof, and while I liked it enough to give it a recommendation, it does feel a bit like a bunch of different amusement park attractions that are cool or fun on their own, but otherwise feel a bit cobbled together. Thus, they don't quite gel into the amazing collective whole many are probably expecting or at least hoping for.

Bird and company mix in parts of Walt's optimism about the future, some Wizard of Oz types of elements (notably the girl thrust into a strange new world and distant views of the gleaming and looming not-quite Emerald City), and the standard movie pairing of an ambitious young person and a disgruntled older one who was once, natch, much like their younger counterpart and, double-natch, will have some of their original enthusiasm rekindled on their collective journey.

Aside from Hugh Laurie who's mostly wasted in a one-note role as the wizard, if you will, the three main performers -- George Clooney as the bitter man whose dreams weren't fulfilled, Britt Robertson as the ambitious and resourceful teen who wants to figure out how to fix the world's woes, and Raffey Cassidy as something a proper British girl who brings them together -- are quite good. They have terrific chemistry together, especially in their earlier, snarkier modes, and they have fun with the dialogue supplied to them by the duo of scribes.

The visual effects are top-notch, and the storyline is interesting enough to keep us engaged. That is, at least early on and when things aren't overly preachy or when the sci-fi doesn't get distracting due to things not being explained as fully as they should be regarding the hows, whens and whys regarding the existence of the titular locale.

The film's themes, heart and message are clearly in the right place, especially when so much of the media (particularly TV "news") and other impactful elements of life have replaced optimism and a can-do spirit with fear, loathing and divisiveness. It certainly carries on with FDR's famous quote about there being nothing to fear but fear itself.

The biggest disappointment, however, is that I wanted to be amazed and wowed like a younger version of myself likely would have been at the real Tomorrowland attraction all those years ago. At various points in the film, I felt as if we were about to get there and the pic was ready to blast into exuberant perfection. But then such moments would peter out and I'd feel sort of like my college self going through the same park years later with a somewhat jaded view of the concept and execution.

I have no idea if today's kids will truly be wowed by this and make their friends jealous about having seen it before them. After all, and unlike Disneyworld back in the 1970s, movies like this are pretty much a dime a dozen (metaphorically, certainly not in terms of actual budget) and thus they really need to be special to impress. "Tomorrowland" verges on that and even greatness from time to time, but just isn't the sort of pic you'll likely to be rushing back to the entrance to ride again. It rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed May 19, 2015 / Posted May 22, 2015


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